One day in one of the villages there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus he fell down before him in prayer and said, "If you want to, you can cleanse me."
Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, "I want to. Be clean." Then and there his skin was smooth, the leprosy gone.
Jesus instructed him, "Don't talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed self to the priest, along with the offering ordered by Moses. Your cleansed and obedient life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done." But the man couldn't keep it to himself, and the word got out. Soon a large crowd of people had gathered to listen and be healed of their ailments. As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer.
One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and religion teachers were sitting around. They had come from nearly every village in Galilee and Judea, even as far away as Jerusalem, to be there. The healing power of God was on him.
Some men arrived carrying a paraplegic on a stretcher. They were looking for a way to get into the house and set him before Jesus. When they couldn't find a way in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof, removed some tiles, and let him down in the middle of everyone, right in front of Jesus. Impressed by their bold belief, he said, "Friend, I forgive your sins."
That set the religion scholars and Pharisees buzzing. "Who does he think he is? That's blasphemous talk! God and only God can forgive sins."
Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking and said, "Why all this gossipy whispering? Which is simpler: to say 'I forgive your sins,' or to say 'Get up and start walking'? Well, just so it's clear that I'm the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both. . . ." He now spoke directly to the paraplegic: "Get up. Take your bedroll and go home." Without a moment's hesitation, he did it—got up, took his blanket, and left for home, giving glory to God all the way. The people rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then also gave glory to God. Awestruck, they said, "We've never seen anything like that!"
The story of the paraplegic being let down through the roof is one of my favorite stories ever. There are so many layers to it. But, I think the part that I like the most is the whole, “Which is easier, to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or to say ‘get up, take your mat and go home’?”
We all know it’s easier to say “your sins are forgiven” because then nobody knows if it really happened or not. Those are just words. If Jesus says, “Take up your mat and go home,” and the guy just lays there then we know that nothing happened.
In our gut, we all know that actions speak louder than words.
Yet, when you read the whole story and you discover what is necessary for Jesus to gain victory over sin and death, you read back to this story and think, “Jesus, I see what you did there.” Foreshadowing is a remarkably powerful narrative technique and Luke uses it masterfully here.
I saw a C.S. Lewis quote this morning from Mere Christianity, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.” That is so very true! We love the idea of someone forgiving us, but forgiving others is a different deal.
As I think more about what Jesus says here, it strikes me that even if he didn’t have to go to the cross the act of forgiveness is still harder than the act of healing. Why? Because when I forgive another I am putting to death my ego. I am setting myself aside for the sake of another. I am choosing to say to someone that I will not seek revenge no matter how badly I want to.
When we forgive we are perpetrating the greatest act of subversion there is. If I can forgive someone they have lost their power over me. Forgiveness is something that I do so that I am free to pursue love. Forgiveness is a one way street. It is from the wounded to the wounder. It doesn’t require reconciliation or restoration, which require both parties to move toward mutual submission.
This morning I’m thinking deeply about who I need to extend forgiveness to in my life. Who are the people that hold a wound over me that I need to be free from? Where am I being held back from loving well because of the chains of resentment, bitterness, and anger?